A state of emergency has been declared for all Western New York counties and a portion of the Thruway and routes 219 and 400 for all traffic have been closed since 8 tonight. The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for Erie, Genesee and Wyoming counties.
Westbound traffic is being detoured from the Thruway at Exit 50 (the 290) and eastbound traffic at Exit 61 (Ripley).
“Western New Yorkers have experience with snow, but this is something different, this is snow with extreme arctic cold,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.
Early this afternoon, an accident closed Buffalo’s Skyway, significantly snarling traffic leaving the city and heading south. It seems many motorists opted for South Park Avenue, which reports indicated was the equivalent of a parking lot.
This afternoon as commuters were trying to get home, the intersection of South Park Avenue and Ridge Road near Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna was gridlock.
The line of cars backed up from Lackawanna extended all the way into downtown Buffalo.
The line of cars inches along southbound on South Park Avenue, McKinley Parkway, Hopkins Street as winds whipped snow around, making visibility next to zero at times.
Late departing commuters from the city headed south sought to head home on alternate routes but found gridlock on South Park Avenue from about Michigan Avenue all the way into Lackawanna. Michigan Avenue headed south was also severely congested as was nearby Scott and Washington streets headed out of downtown.
In the Eden and Hamburg area late this afternoon, roads were snow-covered and slippery. Squall areas were persistent, particularly on open roads. It was difficult to see road signs, markings and traffic signals.
Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski declared a state of emergency in the City of Lackawanna at 4:12 p.m., including a driving ban.
Workers in downtown Buffalo saw blizzard-like conditions that made visibility negligible.
It was eerily quiet for a Monday at 5 p.m. inside a parking ramp along Washington Street, where just a handful of cars were left.
The ramp holds a few hundred vehicles, but commuters began emptying out en masse around 3 p.m., said Brittany Lawson, who was tending the exit toll booth.
“They were basically all in a panic,” said Lawson. “Five o’clock is usually the rush.”
Lawson, who was scheduled to work until 10 p.m., would have preferred to leave with everyone else, even if it meant getting stuck in the traffic that crawled along Washington Street toward Scott Street.
“I have all my friends and family texting me these weather updates, and I just say, ‘Alright, I’ll be here until 10 o’clock,’” she said.
News Staff Reporter Thomas J. Prohaska says conditions are worsening in the Lockport area, especially south near the Niagara-Erie county border where visibility was not good.
A localized lake-effect snow band is dumping vastly different amounts of snow on different regions within Western New York. Some areas, specifically South Buffalo and the northernmost Southtowns areas, could get up to 3 feet of snow by early Wednesday morning.
The most dangerous weather is expected to hit tonight when heavy winds, blowing snow, low temperatures and frigid wind-chill readings are expected to make traveling hazardous, especially for people stranded on impassable roads.
That is why authorities are warning people to stay home, if possible, tonight. If they have to travel, they should remember three necessities: warm, layered clothing; blankets; and full gas tanks.
The state of emergency allows the state to use state resources to assist local governments, and gives the state the flexibility to deploy state agencies without “going through any red tape,” Cuomo said.
The state Emergency Operations Center will be opened at 8 p.m. based on the forecasted winter weather conditions in Buffalo and Western New York.
The Thruway Authority will have 66 plows and 188 operators available during the storm, including some plows and operators that have been brought in from other Thruway divisions. In addition to the large truck-mounted snow blowers, ATVs and snowmobiles based in Western New York and mobilized for storm response, additional snow blowers and snowmobiles have also been relocated to the area for use as needed during the storm.
The Thruway has nearly 25,000 tons of road salt on-hand in the Buffalo area, along with a significant quantity of liquid magnesium chloride, which is also used to treat roadways and prevent icy conditions.
The state Department of Transportation has 170 plows and 455 operators in the region to address storm conditions.
The Thruway Authority sent 10 plows and 11 operators to Long Island last week to assist DOT during the snowstorm there on Thursday and Friday. All of those plows and operators have returned to the Buffalo area.